The Person-Centered Approach

The Person-Centered Approach can be understood as an evolution of Client-Centered Therapy as originated by the well-known American psychologist Carl Rogers. Client-Centered Therapy can be seen as a branch of the Humanistic School of Psychology and Philosophy.

Often referred to as the Third Force, Humanistic Psychology encompasses psychological, philosophical, sociological, and biological ideas that grew in reaction to Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism. In contrast to Psychoanalysis, which attempts to understand and work with unconscious motives, and Behaviorism, which attempts to generate change through learned behavior, Humanistic Psychology attempts to help individuals increase their innate healing capacities and thereby allow self-directed growth to occur.

Known as Client-Centered Therapy, and now often referred to as the Person-Centered Approach, Carl Rogers’ form of psychotherapy is characterized by three core conditions: (1) congruence between the therapist and the client, (2) unconditional positive regard toward the client, and (3) empathy with the client.

Film still of Carl Rogers in counseling session with Gloria 

Film still of Carl Rogers in counseling session with Gloria 

Congruence, Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathy

By: Carl R. Rogers. A Way of Being. 1980. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, pp.115-116.

In Roger’s own words:

Individuals have within themselves vast resources for self-understanding and for altering their self-concepts, basic attitudes, and self-directed behavior; these resources can be tapped if a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided. There are three conditions that must be present in order for a climate to be growth promoting. These conditions apply whether we are speaking of the relationship between therapist and client, parent and child, leader and group, teacher and student, or administrator and staff. The conditions apply, in fact, in any situation in which the development of the person is a goal.


The first element could be called genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more the therapist is himself or herself in the relationship, putting up no professional front or personal facade, the greater is the likelihood that the client will change and grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is openly being the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment. The term "transparent" catches the flavor of this condition: the therapist makes himself or herself transparent to the client; the client can see right through what the therapist is in the relationship; the client experiences no holding back on the part of the therapist. As for the therapist, what he or she is experiencing is available to awareness, can be lived in the relationship, and can be communicated, if appropriate. Thus, there is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed to the client.

Unconditional Positive Regard

The second attitude of importance in creating a climate for change is acceptance, or caring, or prizing -- what I have called "unconditional positive regard." When the therapist is experiencing a positive, acceptant attitude toward whatever the client is at that moment, therapeutic movement or change is more likely to occur. The therapist is willing for the client to be whatever immediate feeling is going on -- confusion, resentment, fear, anger, courage, love, or pride. Such caring on the part of the therapist is nonpossessive. The therapist prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way.


The third facilitative aspect of the relationship is empathic understanding. This means that the therapist senses accurately the feelings and personal meanings that the client is experiencing and communicates this understanding to the client. When functioning best, the therapist is so much inside the private world of the other that he or she can clarify not only the meanings of which the client is aware but even those just below the level of awareness. This kind of sensitive, active listening is exceedingly rare in our lives. We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”

“How does this climate which I have just described bring about change? Briefly, as persons are accepted and prized, they tend to develop a more caring attitude toward themselves. As persons are empathetically heard, it becomes possible for them to listen more accurately to the flow of inner experiencings. But as a person understands and prizes self, the self becomes more congruent with the experiencings. The person thus becomes more real, more genuine. These tendencies, the reciprocal of the therapist's attitudes, enable the person to be a more effective growth-enhancer for himself or herself. There is a greater freedom to be the true, whole person.


The Actualizing Tendency

By: Jerold D. Bozarth. “The Foundation of Person-Centered Therapy.” Website of Person-Centered International

Jerold Bozarth

Jerold Bozarth

The expression of these core conditions can be understood as the fundamental facilitating force that can help increase the “actualizing tendency” of Client-Centered clients.

According to Jerold Bozarth, a well known modern Person-Centered theorist, the foundation block of Person-Centered Therapy is the actualizing tendency.

Rogers stated: practice, theory and research make it clear that the person-centered approach is built on a basic trust in the person . . . (It) depends on the actualizing tendency present in every living organism’s tendency to grow, to develop, to realize its full potential. This way of being trusts the constructive directional flow of the human being toward a more complex and complete development. It is this directional flow that we aim to release (Rogers, 1986b, p. 198).

Rogers’ construct of the actualizing tendency is an organismic theory wherein the fundamental qualities in human nature are viewed as those of growth, process and change. In Rogers’ theory, "Man is an actualizing process" (Van Belle, 1980, p. 70). Actualization is the motivational construct in organismic theory and, thus, is embedded in the organismic growth process and is the motive for change. The organism/person is the basic unit of inquiry in Rogers’ conceptualizations. Although Rogers focused on the self-concept in earlier writings and brings in the concept of the formative tendency of the universe in later writings, the construct of the actualizing tendency for the human being is the clear foundation block in individual therapy.

The person-centered therapist operates on a number of assumptions associated with the actualizing tendency. These assumptions include the orientation that emphasizes the world of the whole person wherein the therapist eschews knowledge ‘about’ the client, relates as an equal to the client, and trusts and respects the client’s perceptions as the authority about him/herself.

The Person-Centered Approach

The basic client/person-centered value is that the authority of the person rests in the person rather than in an outside expert. This value emphasizes the internal (i.e., the client's) rather than the external (i.e., the therapist’s) view. Clients are viewed as going in their own ways, allowed to go at their own pace, and to pursue their growth in their unique ways. The external view is meaningless in the therapy process since the only function of the therapist is to facilitate the client’s actualizing process. This process is a directional, growth directed process that includes movement towards realization, fulfillment and perfection of inherent capabilities and potentialities of the individual (Rogers, 1963). It is a selective process in that it is directional and constructive. It tends to enhance and maintain the whole organism/person.


A summary of the theory can be stated as follows: (1)There is one motivating force in a client; i.e., the actualizing tendency. (2) There is one directive to the therapist; i.e. to embody the attitudinal quality of genuineness and to experience empathic understanding from the client’s internal frame of reference and to experience unconditional positive regard towards the client. (3) When the client perceives the therapist’s empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard, the actualizing tendency of the client is promoted.

Person-Centered Beliefs

Carl Rogers and Barbara Brodley

Carl Rogers and Barbara Brodley

By: Barbara Temaner Brodley. “Client-Centered Therapy - What Is It? What Is It Not?” August, 1986. Presented at the first annual meeting of the Association for the Development of the Person-Centered Approach, University of Chicago, September 3-7, 1986.

  1. Belief that human nature is basically constructive.
  2. Belief that human nature is basically social.
  3. Belief that self-regard is a basic human need and that self-regard, autonomy and individual sensitivity are to be protected in helping relationships.
  4. Belief that persons are basically motivated to perceive realistically and to pursue the truth of situations.
  5. Belief that perceptions are a major determinant of personal experience and behavior and, thus, to understand a person one must attempt to understand them empathically.
  6. Belief that the individual person is the basic unit and that the individual should be addressed, (not groups, families, organizations, etc.), in situations intended to foster growth.
  7. Belief in the concept of the whole person.
  8. Belief that persons are realizing and protecting themselves as best they can at any given time and under the internal and external circumstances that exist at that time.
  9. Belief in abdication of the pursuit of control or authority over other persons and, instead, a commitment to strive to share power and control.
  10. A commitment to open mindedness and humility in respect to theory and practice.